Ray Winstone

May bank holiday saw me input local Chinese restaurant, a few yards outside Sawbridgeworth and nearly in to Harlow.

Great food, I turned up slightly under dressed for the establishment, but they were good enough to let us in all the same.

I was commenting on my predicament when another group of people walked in behind, one of whom also appeared more casually dressed than the others. I smiled as I saw it was one of my all time favourite actors Ray Winstone!

Thanks Ray – you made my day, and if I could stop you for a chat at some point I would really appreciate it. Perhaps over some Chinese food at the Straw Hat?


National Express Versus Virgin Trains

Today I was treated to a journey to Leeds on a National Express train. The thing is, I booked the tickets through the Virgin web site, and half expected to travel on a Virgin train. It turns out that Virgin don’t ‘fly’ out of Kings Cross, and so it was that I ended up on what I now consider to be the wrong train entirely.

A Virgin train ride (in First Class) includes access to the lounge area at the stations (unless it is Euston, which at the time of writing is undergoing refurbishment), all food, all drink (including alcohol) and a pendolino train with free wifi (no need to register). More subtle benefits of Virgin include more pleasant announcements and less of them, too, but more informative, somehow.

Compare and contrast that with National Express…

No lounge access unless you pay full fare (so no advance single ticket holders allowed), no food included, trains that lean unexpectedly as if on an adverse camber, wifi that is slow as slow can be (and frequently drops out), and needs you to divulge too much personal info for my liking. On top of that the announcements are at many decibels more than they need to be, and repeated at least three times at every station. Something about needing to have a ticket and if it’s the wrong ticket having to pay full fare to get the right ticket… ad infinitum.

Given that advanced tickets on Virgin cost the same, and you get so much more, and working on the assumption that VIrgin trains also make a profit (which they may not, of course), how can National Express justify their level of service?

Now don’t get me wrong – the staff on NX (!) are pleasant and polite… but so are they on Virgin. And it may be that I’ve been particularly unfortunate in that each NX journey (East Coast) I’ve taken has been spectacularly similar. I can’t help but come to the conclusion that NX are overpriced, underserviced and not particularly the best experience of rail travel.

Why did Woolworths go bust?

It’s hard to know where to start. I went in to the local branch of woolworths and saw these on display. One I just had to buy for the comedy value, the other I left behind.

It’s a shame Woolies has gone, but in the cold light of day you have got to ask what on earth were their buyers doing?! How completely out of touch.

iPod interface for cars, Dension fitted iPod system

I recently changed my car, leaving my trusted Audi A3 and therefore the Alpine N333RRS head unit, sat nav system and iPod interface. I didn’t let the car go with that system in place – I took it out and put back the Audi Chorus radio and tape player.

The new car, an Audi A3 Cabrio (yes, yes, I know… still an A3) came with no sat nav, but I did get a dealer fitted iPod interface. Guess what? It turns out to be a Dension device – either a gateway or ICE>Link – I don’t know which (it is hidden behind the centre console). The clues I had were obvious – the track name doesn’t show, the track number doesn’t advance and there was a leaflet left in the glove box with the Dension name all over it!

And in that nutshell you have it – the Dension systems are working, just, but there are obvious ommissions in functionality still. It must be three years or more since I stopped using the Dension system because of these shortcomings, and here I am right back where I was.

The iPod or the head unit can be used to change the track, but also so can the multi-function steering wheel. What is rather nice is that the phone system in the car works as it should, muting the playback to allow incoming or outgoing calls easily, but I fail to see why after all this time Dension kit still can’t show ID3 tags… specifically, the name of the song playing.

What also causes a wry smile is that a car maker as prestigious as Audi sees fit to install a 3rd party device in their cars. If Alpine can make a system that works as you want it to, showing track names, switching between play lists and folders, etc, then why on earth haven’t the major manufacturers put some R&D into creating their own systems yet? I suppose the argument is that the Dension kit does the job, but I have to say that is less than true. The Dension kit does half the job…

Since it was fitted by the dealership (or rather the local audio specialists) I have no idea what firmware has been installed, what would constitute an update or when I can expect better functionality.

So on the one hand I am delighted to have my iPod working, my phone working and have all the controlls at my fingertips whilst driving, I am disappointed that the old issues have remained for such a long time. I am bemused as to why Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Ford, Mazda… heck, anyone, hasn’t done this properly yet. As far as gadgets go the iPod is the ‘big one’, so what is taking the manufacturers so long to get a decent interface in their vehicles?

BBC Micro News

BBC Micro

A colleague from Cleveratom (Nick) was at the recent science museum event in London which saw the BBC Micro creators reunite to celebrate over 25 years of the machine. In preparation for it Nick created a unique system which uses a BBC Micro to read out the current BBC news RSS feeds! You can subscribe to through iTunes, too. This alone is worthy enough of being called geeky, but in fact also shows the amazing capabilities of this remarkable machine.

Whilst the RSS reading antics do also rely on a couple of other (more modern) machines, the experiment shows the BBC Micro still has enough about it to be used creatively, even now.

In fact, if anyone has a BBC ‘B’ or Master, with or without a CUB monitor, that they want to see used as part of this experiment then I’d love to hear from you. Read on for why… or go to http://www.bbcmicronews.co.uk and see it in action. Read more